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Ancient flute and trombone legends

Published October 06. 2012 09:02AM

The opening reception for the National Federation of Press Women (NFPW) was held at the beautiful Arizona Historical Society Museum where exhibits tell the story of Arizona.

Besides having a chance to view this fascinating display of its history, we were treated to a delicious dinner made by the Arizona Historical Society from recipes featured in their beautiful full-color hardbound cookbook, "Tastes and Treasures: A Storytelling Cookbook of Historic Arizona." Since I collect cookbooks, of course I had to buy one.

Arizona State Historian Marshall Trimble was our featured entertainment for the evening. Known as the "Will Rogers of Arizona," he has written more than 20 Arizona history books and taught history at Scottsdale Community College for 40 years. He came onto the stage dressed in jeans, cowboy shirt, cowboy hat and cowboy boots, with a guitar slung on his shoulder. For the next 30 minutes, he had us laughing, amazed, and enjoying Arizona history through cowboy poetry, stories and song.

He sang about Kokopelli, the famous figure from an ancient petroglyph (carvings and paintings on rocks) dating back 3,000 years. Kokopelli is depicted dancing and playing a flute. He was said to have been a god that traveled from village to village bringing the changing of winter to spring. The hunch of his back was said to have been sacks of seeds and the songs he carried. He played a flute which was said to herald spring and was the source of human conception. Legend has it that everyone would sing and dance throughout the night when they heard Kokopelli play the flute. The next morning, every maiden in the village would be with child. Now that's some potent flute playing, if you ask me.

Anyway, Trimble's song "Kokopelli Kokopelli" caught my imagination and I found myself humming it throughout the rest of the conference and the coming days.

I learned that Kokopelli is indeed seen everywhere in the southwest when Harry, our friends Connie and George Moretz, and I boarded a bus for a tour of the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. He is seen in restaurants, on posters, artwork, earrings, necklaces, T-shirts and anything you can name. (Yes, I bought myself a shirt with Kokopelli on it and souvenir key chains for my nephew and a friend.)

Kokopelli was even a major character on our bus tour. Our tour guide, Brandon, had a stuffed Kokopelli doll that he clipped on the side of the aisle to let us know which side could leave the bus first whenever we made a stop.

Also at the conference, I heard a story about a trombone player. I was beginning to think these southwest guys have a thing for blowing instruments.

Richard Haddad, the digital media director for Western News & Info, Inc., was part of the panel of the "President's Roundtable: A New Era for Newspapers."

He told us about his grandfather who was a professional trombone player. He loved what he did and he loved his instrument. At one time he played in a circus band. Richard's mother was 10 years old at the time and often accompanied her father to the circus and sat next to him while he played. One day, one of the clowns came out to the ringside with a trombone. He played it and flowers magically appeared. Water came spraying out of it and got the audience wet. People laughed and the clown pandered to the crowd.

As Richard's mother told him the story, she said her father quietly got up and made his way to where the clown was. He stood in front of him and held out his hands. The clown looked at him as if he was crazy. It became a stare-down. The audience thought it was all part of the act and was laughing. Finally, the clown gave the trombone to her father. He lifted it to his mouth and began to play a beautiful rendition of Hoagy Carmichael's song, "Star Dust." His mother remembers that the audience grew so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. When he finished playing, he held the trombone out to the clown for him to take. Instead, the clown gently pushed it back to her father, for him to keep.

"You see, my grandfather loved the trombone and couldn't stand to see someone making a joke of it. When the clown saw and understood the value of the instrument, he gave it to someone who appreciated it more than he did. The quality of what we do is worth paying for it. The clown was paying my grandfather for the quality of his talent. My grandfather gave that trombone to my mother. She still plays it professionally today at the age of 74."

He tied his story in with how writers in today's online media world have to believe that "The quality of what we do is worth paying for it."

Kokopelli, Richard's grandfather, writers, and all of us today, have gifts of worth. Kokopelli's legend continues to live on after 3,000 years. Maybe most of us don't believe he is a god of changing seasons, but he provides a look back into an ancient culture and we can derive great pleasure in the tale. Richard's grandfather's trombone and story will be passed down for generations in his family and it will continue to strike a chord in any who hears it. And whether we are writers or nurses, teachers, telephone linemen, clerks in stores, we all have gifts that have a value. When we give quality work, we know great satisfaction. And that's worth blowing your flute or trombone about anytime.

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